Monday, 31 October 2016

Challenged To Take A Photograph 6: A Duck - And A Dinosaur, A President, And Mithras Worship

I asked again.

"What shall I photograph today?"

The answer came back straight away, no hesitation.

"A duck."

Today I had got up feeling less than well.  Tonight, with bedtime not too far away, I feel less than well.  My plans for excursions into the big world today were as follows:  Walk for a few minutes.  Reach Aldi.  Buy some things.  Return home.  That was it.  Finished.  And it's fair to say that between home and Aldi, in the course of a few short streets, I don't often see a duck.

But my head couldn't let it rest.  I didn't want to search the house for a toy duck.  We used to have one called Jake.  I didn't want to (cheat/think laterally) and provide a photo of a bottle of Toilet Duck.  I didn't want to stick on a Looney Tunes DVD and take a picture of Daffy Duck.  My head wasn't accepting any of these perfectly acceptable solutions to the challenge.

In deciding to stay home apart from a quick shopping trip for bread and milk I had made a mistake.  Just like John Abruzzi.  And just like him, I found I needed a duck.

I would have to go further.  Ignore the encroaching grip of minor illness and head off on a minor adventure.  My head formed a plan.  Three places within reach of the same city centre Metro station where I might, with luck, see a duck.  So I caught the Metro to Haymarket (for city centre shopping and local bus services) and began my quest.

My eye was immediately caught by a figure with wings.  Just like a duck.  But not a duck.

I stepped into a church.  That of Saint Thomas the Martyr.  But I couldn't find a duck there.  I did find a really good book of poetry and something about Quaker history.  These books were more than ample compensation for not finding a duck.  In all honesty I would have been surprised by ducks there.  The people of that church are decent.  It was the first Anglican church in this diocese to officially become an inclusive church.  They are very into social justice.  In addition the Progressive Christian Network meets there regularly.  The preachers I met while searching for a pink flamingo would not apply the word Christian to that network.  But if I see the light of Christ, I see it far more in the PCN.  Because they embrace humanity, embrace the beauty of this life, and they smile a whole lot more.  Good people.

I walked on and encountered this sight.  No ducks here but I was hoping that I would find ducks in the water at the nearby Civic Centre.

On the way I passed this pillar, marked with the three castle emblem of the city.  The pillar is one of several that was erected to mark the boundaries of the Town Moor.  It is there to remind we good citizens of Newcastle Upon Tyne of the extent of our heritage.  Although none of us may think this is close to the moor at all, it's actually at the corner which means that quite a few University buildings are on the moor.  That's my excuse for walking into a couple of them today even though I had no reason to be in them at all.

Heading closer to the water.  Almost there.  I passed this quite ugly block of concrete.  An ugly block.  Perhaps a fitting memorial to the visit of President Jimmy Carter.  Perhaps not.  He is a democrat but not a duck.  He was a wise President.  After all, pretty much the first place he wanted to visit was Newcastle.  Very wise indeed.

From that plaque I reached the water.  And on the water I found some birds.  I knew they were there.  I have included them in a post before.  But they're not ducks.  They are five swans, representing the nations of Scandinavia in the order in which they embraced democracy.  Iceland is the head swan.

That water had been the first of my three hopes for where I might find a duck.  The first had been thwarted by the society of ducks who had chosen to fly elsewhere today.  I walked on, still very buoyant because I had strong hopes that there would be ducks in the second location.

The next animal I encountered on my quest was also not a duck.  Here is a sign that you might not expect to see in the middle of a city in the north of England:

As for me I did expect to see it.  Because I had seen it before and had made a special point of seeing it today.  I did not climb on the rhinoceros.  As I sit here Blob is telling me off because he says I should have let him climb on the magnificent beast.  Maybe he's right.  I know he wants to go back to lots of the places we went today.  I will let him ride the rhino.  Winefride can ride too, her reins safely round the rhino's horns.

Turning, I saw this building.  This is the Hancock Museum, or as it is now known The Great North Museum: Hancock.  I had a thought.  Maybe I would be able to find a duck in the museum.

I walked into the museum and saw above me the first of many non-duck creatures I was to encounter there.

And then, frighteningly, this creature from the nightmares of the sea.

Having escaped that fearsome looking beast - a simple enough task since it was both encased in glass and dead - I entered Roman Britain and there laid before me was the course of Hadrian's Wall.

And having left behind the Christian house of worship so recently, I now fell into another cultus and entered the house of Mithras.

Before moving on I must show you this.  Two days ago one of my challenges was to photograph a butterfly.  If only I had been in the Hancock Museum.  I would have nailed the challenge with this multitude of creatures.  You can get a butterfly too, with your name on it, in return for some cash.  It's a fair enough request - the museum is free to enter and it needs funds from somewhere.

Since I'm showing you the butterfly wall I will tell you this too.  You may remember, if your memory is better than mine, that on Friday I had accepted three quests but refused another.  The refused quest was to photograph a smoker smoking by a no smoking sign.  Today I completed that quest, purposefully heading to a location where such a sight is sometimes possible.

You will have to believe me because it doesn't show up well.  There is a lit cigarette in her hand.  I have scrambled her face to save any embarrassment in case someone was to see the photo and recognise her.  Quest completed.

That quest, yes.  But not the quest for the duck!  And everywhere I turned there were more animals.  It was beginning to feel like the flamingo challenge all over again.  Every possible animal except for a duck.  Some of the animals were even extinct.

Others lacked many of the usual attributes of a duck.  This one had no wings, no feathers.  It didn't even have legs.

And then my luck changed a little.  I kept finding more animals and some of them were much closer to being a duck.  They had legs.  They had feathers.  They had wings.  These were birds.  Birds!

But they weren't ducks.

And then there was this one.  It looks a lot like a duck.  I got very excited.

But the sign said it wasn't a duck.  When is a duck not a duck?  When it's a whatever this was.  In my distress I didn't stop to write down what it was called.

I saw a lot more animals in the museum.  Many of them come from that common Victorian practice of capturing wild animals and stuffing them for display.  We've nearly wiped out tigers.  The one on display in the museum was one of the early tigers to be killed for the enjoyment of Europeans.

Many animals.  No duck.  My challenge was not yet over.  Would it ever be?  I will write of that next time.  The culmination of my challenge.  And a lot of other photos too because I saw so much of interest or of beauty today.

Without the challenge I would have stayed at home feeling a bit sorry for myself.  There's just a chance that I will be doing that tomorrow.  I hope not.  There are things I want to do.  Things that don't involve ducks.  And just at the moment I have just enough brain functionality to be able to do them.  Just about.

[1470 words]

Days Of Gratitude - Soup, She Choir, And Success. The First Of The Challenges

Four more days and the start of something I've been enjoying.

I am writing this on day six.  The days below include days one to three.  Just on a whim I asked Amanda a question:  "What shall I photograph today?"  It was an off the cuff question.  In part it was just me wondering what I would photograph and voicing my thought out loud, if a text is out loud.  It wasn't really a direct question because I didn't know what I might see and she certainly didn't know. 

Nevertheless she gave me an impossible answer and I had fun searching for the impossibility and then turning it into a possibility.

So each day since then I have asked her what I should photograph.  Sometimes there has been one challenge.  Sometimes more than one - but only because I keep saying challenges are too hard or impossible.  And then I do them anyway.  So in the last week I've found brilliant street art, made a simple marble run, posted my first ever [very daft] videos on YouTube, visited an art gallery and a museum, and generally had a good time  It's been very good for me.

Today I got up feeling and looking unwell.  I went to bed last night with a slightly bad chest, a very sore throat and a bit of a cough.  This morning I felt like staying at home and going back to bed.  I'd just go to Aldi quickly and then come home and that would be that.

Except I asked for a challenge.  And I accepted it.  She told me to photograph a duck.  I'll write about it tonight or tomorrow.  As a result I've wandered into random buildings where I probably wasn't meant to be.  I've visited a church.  I've bought two really good books for a pound.  I've seen pythons, and dinosaurs and Mithras.  I've played on a slide.  I've kicked through the leaves on a path I've never walked before.  And I've had a really nice walk in the park on one of the most pleasant autumn days you could imagine.

As to whether I photographed a duck, I am not saying.  That can wait until a duck quest blog.

I am knackered now and I do feel like going back to bed.  But perhaps I don't feel physically any worse for having been out and enjoyed a morning.  Mentally I probably feel a lot better than I would have done had I stayed home.

I doubt that there will be challenges every single day for ever.  But for now they are adding more riches to my life than I could ever have imagined would come out of asking "What shall I photograph today?"

October 25th

Grateful for DVDs, soft toys, an exemption certificate when picking up five prescriptions, and for restraining myself from making extremely sarcastic remarks when spotting on Facebook that cancer will have vanished by tomorrow. Maybe poverty and injustice can be wiped out tomorrow night.

Stopping now before preaching to the converted about how prayer, if it does anything at all, doesn't work that way and never did.

26th October

Grateful to have gone to a place where I might find some support. It took a lot of doing.

And grateful for being able to get to the She Choir. The quotation had been written on the wall of the place we meet, by an unknown hand.

And grateful for being challenged by Amanda to take a photo of a real life unicorn with wings.

Success - and Winefride enjoyed her flight around the room immensely!

27th October

Grateful to be able to get out to Durham for a while, wander in charity shops and drop into Alington House where their little cafe was open. Very grateful for that. I had bread with home made pumpkin soup. Followed by a corned beef, cheese and onion toastie with a mug of tea. [Yes I am a monster, I eat meat still!] Followed by a Polish cake. Followed by more bread and soup because they asked if I wanted it for free to finish off the pan. Total cost - £2.40.

And grateful for being challenged by Amanda to take a photo of a tree with a rainbow ribbon around it. A tree was easy. The ribbon was harder. But I succeeded. Without cheating! All thanks to protestors against the stupid road plans in Gosforth.

28th October

Grateful that after a serious meeting I could focus on three silly challenges. This is the result:…/challenged-to-take…

I was too wiped to get out to the art event I wanted to get to. But I'd had a good time with my challenges.

The result made the challenger laugh a lot. Seeing her laugh was a massive reward for me.

Challenged To Take A Photograph 5: A Robot

Another day led to another challenge.  Photograph a robot.

I made it harder for myself than I needed to.  I responded, "Not a droid."

That would have been too easy.  There is a droid in this house.  Too easy.  In any case, my challenger has somehow managed to avoid absorbing information about Star Wars.

Our house also contains a Clockwork Man from Doctor Who.  There are probably other forms of robot too.  One thing we don't have is the robot from the Magic Robot game, the one that pointed to all the answers to general knowledge questions because it was so clever.

I remember in primary school I would be a little jealous when people brought that game in for the last day of term.  Briefly jealous.  Only briefly, because after five minutes the game started to get a bit dull, the novelty of the robot having worn off.  I never had that game.  It wouldn't have helped me either for this challenge because the BBC pointed out that it "is not a robot" so it would have only gained a false success by photographing it.

I wanted to find a robot when I was out.  A proper robot.  Preferably one that looked like a proper robot.  Like Robbie, or the one from Lost in Space or Metropolis.  A proper honest-to-goodness robot of the kind someone of my age would have drawn at school if asked to draw a robot.  There are so many kinds of robots - one of our local hospitals was the first in the UK to have more than one robot surgeon.  But I wanted a proper one.  The kind you might have found on the cover of Isaac Asimov sci-fi novels.  A robot with three laws.  Not a welding robot from a car factory.

I caught the Metro into town and made my way to the Sunday Assembly, all the while looking for robots.  As I left the Metro station I encountered three artificial men.  Here's one of them.

This is one of the potential selves of a man.  He is artificial, sculpted from bronze in 2003.  But he's not a robot.  I walked on.

I deliberately passed another creature and was sad to see that some attractive graffiti I'd photographed a few months ago had been totally spoiled by horrible graffiti.  The original had added to a wall in a back alley.  Now it was just ugly.

Even had it been unspoiled, this would not have completed my quest.  Because a cyberman is not a robot.  It is a cyborg and that's a very different thing.

On the other side of the back alley I spotted that a homeless soft toy had been sleeping rough.  Homelessness - of humans, not soft toys - is a big problem here just as it is across the country.  I read this morning that the number of homeless people has doubled since 2010.  Another example of the results of the policies of our caring, sharing Conservative government.

I walked on and approached the venue for the Sunday Assembly.  This is The Core, the first of many buildings forming an area of the city being redeveloped mainly for scientific enterprise.  A science place.  Maybe I would find a robot there.

But no.  There was no robot.  Death was there though.  Also attending the assembly were a witch, a zombie, a vampire and a range of other curious people.  After the assembly I went for lunch with some people.  An uncharacteristically social thing for me!

I was among geeks and so asked if they knew of any robots to photograph.  Inevitably the conversation then descended into definitions of robot and also to complaints about an exhibition held at the Centre For Life here earlier in the year.  It was called Robot.  It included Iron Man.  Not a robot.  An alien from Mars Attacks.  Not a robot.  An Imperial Stormtrooper.  Not a robot.  The Borg Locutus.  Not a robot.  There was some justification for the complaints.

After lunch I went on to the geek shops of Grainger Street.  Surely I would find a decent robot to photograph in one of them.  But no.  They are full of superheroes, Star Wars, Doctor Who, and Warhammer.  Robots aren't the big thing and there wasn't a decent robot anywhere.  I did spot this though, which has made me want to reacquire a copy of all the books and read them again for the first time in many years.

I seemed unable to find a robot.  It was tempting to fall into despair and agree with these two droids - who would have meant the completion of my quest had I not banned droids from my challenge.

I walked on and spent some time having my eyebrows threaded.  I used the time to consider my quest.  And also to consider spirituality and religion because that kind of thing is in my head a lot of the time.  The threading location didn't have a robot.  It had some attractive Hindu deities but no robot.

Leaving the salon I looked up at this.  The Emerson Chambers.  Surely a building such as this one might contain a robot.  Especially as it contains a bookshop with some toys and a children's section.  I entered, full of faith that my quest was nearing completion.

As I walked around the children's section I had another thought.  What if I could find something in addition to a robot.  What if I could find and photograph something like this:

Yes.  That completed the second challenge from the previous day.  To photograph a pink flamingo.  I found these in a gorgeously illustrated book, Midnight At The Zoo, by Faye Hanson.

But it wasn't a robot.  I couldn't find a robot anywhere in the children's section and was beginning to give up hope as I explored the rest of the shop.  I had already worked out in my head how to create a robot of my own when I got home.  But then, a miracle.  A blessed miracle.  [Okay, so it wasn't a miracle in the strict sense of the term.  There had been no suspension of the laws of nature as a supernatural being stepped in to override the universe on my behalf.]

I found this.  A robot.  And nobody could ever tell me that this isn't a robot, because it says "ROBOT" on the front.

I also found this creature but he would not have counted as a success for the challenge.  I could only photograph the box, not the robot inside.  I asked him whether he would agree to come out but he was a particularly shy robot and said he preferred to stay inside.  I explained to him about the photographic challenge and that he would be helping me a lot.  After some hesitation he did agree to come out of his box.  But he would only do so if I agreed in return to give some money to some people standing behind a counter.  Bribery!  I wasn't going to give in to that.  And so I only photographed the box.  It was fortunate that I had already found the other robot.  A robot who was only too glad to have its picture taken.

I left Emerson Chambers happy.  I had completed the quest.  And I walked through the city centre with a new spring in my step.  It was quite uncomfortable as the end of the spring dug into the sole of my left foot.  It also made it quite difficult to walk.  I only had one new spring.  My right foot was springless so I was quite unbalanced and I must have looked even stranger than usual stepping off one foot gently and bouncing three feet into the air from my other foot.  It's a wonder I didn't cause an accident.  As I approached the end of the street I sat down on a bench and removed the new spring, carefully placing it into a recycling bin.

I had time to wait for my bus so I spent the few minutes wandering.  I was tempted to walk to the hospital and see if I could take a picture of someone smoking in front of a no smoking sign - the photographic challenge I had refused.  But I wanted to get home so just took a couple of pictures from the university campus.

It had been a good day out.  The Sunday Assembly.  Yay!  Lunch with nice people.  Yay!  At the bun shop.  Yay!  And an enjoyable and successful robot quest.  Yay!

Sunday, 30 October 2016

On An Encounter With Fundamentalism. And On The Wonders Of The Human Race.

I chatted with some preachers in Sunderland yesterday.  I wasn't meaning to.  I was just wanting to finish my ice cream in peace.  Damn you preachers, you thwarted my quiet ice cream enjoyment.

But once they began talking at me, and because I am still utterly obsessed about God things and think about them a heck of a lot, and because I wasn't at that point falling to pieces mentally, I talked back.  It's still a novelty to me to be so far on this side of the dogmatic fence.

We talked about a lot of things.  All of them may bore you.  Some of them you may find strange.  Some of them will make you wonder why Christians sometimes don't even love each other let alone non-believers.

I am no longer a Christian.  I'm not.  But I am still fascinated by it all.  It's a special interest.

So as someone with a deep fascination, I've done the talking.  So you don't have to!  There.  Aren't you pleased?  You will know, when you encounter such people, the kinds of things you are happy to be missing by not having a conversation with them.

I have to give this disclaimer:  Not all Christians are like the ones I chatted with.  Quite a lot are very different indeed.  My plans for the day had fallen apart due to my own absent-mindedness, confusion and panic.  But those plans had been to meet with, sit with and relate with a group of Christians.  To talk, share and learn about theology with them.  I'd been looking forward to it too and am sad to have missed out on the experience.  I believe it would have been great.  And I believe that the Christians I didn't manage to meet with would have had nearly as many disagreements with the fundamentalists as I did.

If you did choose to engage a fundamentalist of this variety, a strange choice, what might you talk about?

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I'll start with the more boring bits (history and doctrine) and will end with the most interesting bits (humans and my thoughts about the people I met).  Skip through to the end.  Most of this is not exciting stuff for most people, only strange obsessives like me.  Seriously.  This is long.  And it doesn't even cover the full encounter.  Skip through to the part about people.  Because that's the important thing.

We talked a little of church history.

They said there was a church existing sometimes in secret and sometimes in persecuted groups from the time of Constantine until the Protestant Reformation began.  Theodore Beza, the successor of Calvin, wrote about this history.  That's not an uncommon claim among Protestant fundamentalists but it's a laughable one.  Plus Beza, a man who wrote in defense of burning heretics alive, didn't have the information available to write a reliable church history - which might be why he didn't write one!

They gave some examples of the secret church that upheld the "one true faith."

The Cathars

I was informed that this group were Christians with a beautiful Christian faith, part of the true church. They were persecuted because they held the way of salvation hated by Rome.  This is something I find very funny.  Because the Cathars were dualists - they believed in two Gods.  And they believed in reincarnation.  The Cathars were also gnostics and believed in the ultimate salvation of all people.

In all honesty I don't think the Cathar faith was quite the same as that of these preachers!  I tried to tell them that - because I looked into the Cathars years ago when, as a Catholic, I had the same claims thrown at me.  But no.  Everything I had read and learned was a lie.  Propaganda.  Invented by the Catholic Church.

The Albigensians

I was told that this group were also just like beautiful Protestants.  Bearers of the one true faith.  In fact they were a Cathar sect.  Where most Cathars were pretty ascetic, the Albigensians were more extreme than most.  They also believed that Jesus was just human, not God.  For these people to be held up as models of the true Protestant gospel - the proper Jesus - is crazy.

The Waldensians

This is the funniest of all.  I'll say why a little later.

We talked of other historical documents from the early church.  Reputable ones.  The ones for which we know who wrote them.  And when.  Such as the epistles of Ignatius of Antioch to seven churches, written on his journey to Rome where he was martyred in about AD107.  Such as the two Apologia of Justin Martyr, written to the Roman Emperor around AD150 in the hopes of stopping a persecution.  Those documents contain much that wouldn't fit into the Beza history or the preachers' ideas of the early church.  I know.  I read them a lot before becoming a Catholic for a while.  But no.  All of those documents were fabrications, forgeries from much later, many centuries later, written to prop up a false church.  All such documents that the preachers disagreed with were deemed to be completely non-existent or fake.  I urged them to read these early church documents.  See what was believed by these men of faith and see, especially in Justin, how the early church functioned and how the mid-2nd century Christians worshiped.  I didn't say to follow the way of Justin - just to see for themselves that such a way had been followed by early Christians.

The preacher kept on talking about what Beza is meant to have said and how we have to believe Beza and how all the other things were just false and shouldn't be touched at all.  I could see that historically, there wasn't really any wiggle room for a rational conversation.

We talked a little of doctrine.

The Catholics invented Transubstantiation in AD999.  And believes we're saved by works.  And rejects the Bible.  And has a false Jesus.  And a false priesthood.  And Constantine invented it.  And so on and so on.  These preachers don't like Catholics!

I found it strange.  Two days previously I had laid into some of the teachings of the Catholic Church - with full acceptance that I was giving one side of the teaching far over and above the other.  Now I found myself defending Catholicism.  Of course I'm not Catholic now.  But the accusations fundy Protestants throw at Catholics are ludicrous and hateful.

On a personal note, I am condemned for my Catholic ways and if I don't repent of them I will be judged and burn for eternity.  As a non-Catholic learning this came as something of a surprise.

The New Testament was in its final form by the end of the first century because the apostle John made it so.  Er, no.  Just no.

The gospel was preached across the world by the first generation of Christians - because the Bible says so.

This does not include Australia or the Americas because there wasn't anyone there to tell about Jesus then.  I was told that we know there can't have been people in Australia 2000 years ago because the apostolic church didn't go and preach to them.  Honest.  I was told that.

But the gospel was preached in the British Isles in the first century AD.  Oh yes, I was told that.  And I was told who by.  Apparently the Waldensians came here and told the natives about Jesus.  Oh yes, they did.  Now, unlike the Cathars, the Waldensians did have a faith similar to that seen in the ideas that can be seen in the Protestant Reformation.  Some of their ideas and major criticisms of the Western church of their day are not only valid, they are very praiseworthy.

But did the Waldensians bring the story of Jesus to our shores in the first century?  Well, no.  It would have been difficult for them to do so.  Peter Waldo didn't start that movement until the late twelfth century.  It's an interesting story.  But his followers were not time travelers.

On a personal note, I am the antichrist and an abomination.  That didn't come as a surprise to me.  Old news.

We talked a little about ethics and morality.

I was asked if lying is wrong.  I agree, it usually is.  But to me it wasn't a yes/no question.  I posited an extreme situation.  Sometimes extreme cases disprove a rule.  I was in Germany in 1943 harboring a family of Jews under my floorboards.  The Gestapo paid me a visit and asked whether I was harboring any Jews.  I said I would lie.  He said he wouldn't lie and that God would judge me for my sin in lying.  I tried to explain situational ethics 101.  For the preacher the way of righteousness would have been to give those Jews up to the Gestapo - and myself too, I suppose, for protecting them.

We talked about the verses in the Old Testament in which God commands genocide.  He said that he didn't believe God would command his people to commit genocide now because God does things differently now Jesus has risen.  He said that God is holy and commanding genocide was holy.  He said that if God did command genocide now he would take part in it and kill people because it was better to obey God.  I pointed out a group of children who were passing at that moment and asked, "Would you kill those children?"  He replied that he would, if God told him to.

We talked of the times when it's written that God hardened pharaoh's heart after some of the plagues - and so pharaoh didn't let the Israelites like he had planned.  That's in the story.  But that means that the killing of all the first born children of Egypt wasn't necessary.  Which kinda means all that horror is God's fault.  It's there in the text.  If you, like the preacher, want to believe the text.  The preacher didn't like that.  He couldn't accept it was there because it didn't fit into his dogma. Others say God did it so his power could be seen.  Which rather makes God out to be an egotistical monster.

Yes.  The preacher would slaughter the children of Sunderland under some circumstances.  

Holy crap!

We talked of science.

The preachers believe that the universe is 6000 years old.  I asked about the light coming from a supernova 50,000 light years away.  I was being kind to the man giving this number because it's hardly any distance at all in terms of the universe.  Of all the galaxies in this astonishing universe, less than 100 of them are closer than ten-million light years and we have detected supernovae in galaxies far further away than that.   Wouldn't we thus be seeing the light from a star exploding thousands of years before they would say the universe began?  I got the reply that I didn't know what I was talking about because (a) the universe is expanding so the star would have been much closer 6000 years ago, (b) the speed of light is very different in space to what it is here, and (c) there is no time once you leave planet Earth.  Time doesn't exist anywhere else.  I was told that's what science says.

Evolution is of course a lie.  Anything a scientist says that doesn't fit in with the preachers' brand of dogma is a lie given by Satan.

We talked about other Christians.

Because there are Christians I love who have a faith that's attractive.  They said that these people aren't Christians at all and certainly haven't got the right Jesus.  They said that these other Christians need to repent or burn.

The Protestant Church was going well because it had the Authorised Bible.  But then people started making non-authorised translations from the wrong Greek and Hebrew manuscripts.  And then the Protestant Church went wrong.  Any church using the false Bibles hasn't got Jesus.  Any Christian with a false Bible probably isn't a Christian at all and if they are they desparately need to repent and find the true Jesus in the King James Bible.

On a personal level, I am a fool.

We talked of judgement - and inevitably talked of sexuality.

Please note that I didn't bring this up.  They did.

God has judged and condemned nations in the past.  And he's going to judge this one and condemn it if it doesn't repent, especially from the sin of homosexuality.

On a personal level, I am condemned for my sexuality.

And we talked about other human beings.

They told me this of the human race:  All people, from birth, deserve to burn painfully in Hell for all eternity.  All people are at root evil because of sin.  There is no light in them.  Nothing of God.  Nothing of hope.  Unless they believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (and exactly the right version).

I have a confession to make.  I used to believe that kind of thing.  I thought the Bible said so.  And I wanted to believe the Bible.  I wasn't as extreme as the preachers I met yesterday.  But I believed quite a lot of things that I now find either embarrassing, shockingly reprehensible, or both.  I don't blame myself.  I know the reasons why I came to believe as I did.  But I regret many things.  I accepted Christ in a fucked up state.  And in many ways was fucked up further by my Christianity.

As I talked with those preachers I felt myself more filled with light than I possibly ever have been before.  I did.  And why?  Because when I looked at all the people around me, ordinary people from Sunderland, I saw light.  I saw beauty.  I saw magnificence.  If God is light then I saw God shining from each and every person on that shopping street and saw it as plainly as I could see their physical forms.  It was an amazing experience to have that clarity.

Now, I believe that humans are basically good.  No matter what they do, what they've suffered, what they've been taught to repress or embrace.  No matter what they're going through.  They're basically good.  All humans.  Every single one.

We all make mistakes.  We're all imperfect - or perfectly imperfect.  And sometimes we muck up bigtime or embrace views and beliefs that we later may look back on with a sense of regret or shame.  We all hurt other people sometimes.  We let each other down sometimes.  And all of us may become people who say or do horrible things.

All of that is admitted.  We screw up!  We hurt.  We may be in need of healing.  We may be hungry.  We may be scared.  We may be lonely.  We may act badly out of insecurity.  We may get raised in an environment in which we are taught racism or homophobia or some other prejudice.

But.  We are all basically good.  I believe that.  I know I can be rubbish at social skills at times.  I know I can fail to act in love and light - out of laziness or out of my own woundedness or out of lack of resources.  But I do believe all human beings are wonderful.  Yes, even the suicide bomber.  Even the preacher!

I looked yesterday at the people of Sunderland and I saw shining lights.  And it was wonderful.

And I was being told that all those shining lights were evil.  Dead.  Deserving of eternal torment.

And that for me, beyond history and dogma and science and all the rest of it, is the saddest thing about those preachers.  The saddest by far.

As I think about those preachers I feel this:

Sadness for the years of my life in which I would have gone along with at least part of what they believe, including that view of a fundamentally evil human race in need of salvation from Hell.  Sadness for the relationships I missed out on because of my faith.  Sadness for the times I hurt people because of my faith.

Gladness that the rest of my life will not be spent following such a path.  Gladness for all the things that happened in the last five years - some of them very painful and difficult - which have brought me to this point in my life.  Gladness that I have been "set free from the law of sin and death" which I lived under as an evangelical Christian.

And as for those preachers, I pity them.  And I feel deep sorrow for people in their lives who become affected by the results of their dogma.  I won't be leading the preachers out of the darkness in which they now unwittingly stand.  I hope that they find their way, just as I have been learning to find mine.

My other sadness was that the woman I talked to - because she was answering back to a preacher and had really cool hair and seemed nice - didn't have time to come for a drink with me.  And she really didn't.  Lots of shopping to do before a six hour Megabus journey this morning.  She says if I see her again, to ask again.  I think it would have been quite fun to drink tea with this stranger whose life I completely butted into.  It wouldn't be the first time I've done something like that.

Challenged To Take A Photograph 4c: A Marble Run

I had done well enough.  I had completed two of my three photographic challenges and had enjoyed a lot of sights along the way.  It goes to show that when you are open to being surprised and open to a little exploration then surprises can appear and astound.  Sometimes it's absolutely worthwhile deliberately getting a bit lost.  With my current lack of sense of direction I'm finding it very easy to get lost accidentally unless I have previously visited a place in person.

Thank you Sunderland for revealing some of your street art.  I believe there will be more to find.

The third challenge remained.  To photograph a marble run.

I had called the challenge impossible.  Impossible.  And that's the only reason why the other two challenges were given.

Impossible.  Nevertheless, while walking through Sunderland and while visiting charity shops I looked hard for a marble run.  Just in case.  After all, sometimes marble run toys can be found in a charity shop.  The giver of the challenge knows this very well, having recently bought a marble run toy from a charity shop.

But I wasn't in luck.  I couldn't find a marble run in charity shops or among the street art of the back streets.

The challenge was impossible.  I had failed.

Unless ...

What if I were to make my own marble run?

Surely we would have materials at home somewhere.  If I could think of them.  And I knew that we had a marble.  Many marbles.

In the evening I scoured the house.  There were no suitable materials.  None.  Nothing with a nice marble holding curve.  Nothing for a marble to slide down gracefully.

It was impossible!

Unless ...

Would it be possible to make a marble run with a few sheets of A4 paper, some scissors and some tape?  Would it?

I set to work and enjoyed myself cutting and sticking until this sat on my floor:

It's a marble run.  It is.  And I had photographed it.

Success!  I had succeeded in a quest which I had thought impossible.  Hoorah!

I have proof.  It's not just a mess on the floor.  Here is my proof.  A video!  Of the least impressive marble run on YouTube.

Here it is again, with an explanation that almost makes sense.  With a failed attempt.  And with a happy person.

Keep the hope people!  Don't give up!  And learn about The Sacred Harp!

It almost certainly is the least impressive marble run on YouTube.  I promise you that.  But it is a marble run and it made me smile and it made the giver of the challenge smile too.

Here is a rather more impressive marble run.  I was watching this a couple of days before being given my challenge.  Because I watch this sort of thing.  Hey, it's relaxing.

If you want more than one marble, I can recommend marble machines.  What more could you want than this?:

And if you're in a competitive mood, how about a bit of marble racing?

Or a marble mountain.

I was complaining that my only materials were paper, scissors and tape.  I could have made something like this.  But not in my house because the ceiling isn't high enough.

You may be able to spot that I quite like watching marble runs.  A friend posted one on Facebook.  And I found myself an excellent relaxation aid.

Yeah.  I succeeded in my photographic quest.  And then used that as an excuse to sit watching videos.  A double win!

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Still Challenged To Take A Photograph 4B: A Pink Flamingo

This post continues from a first post about the enjoyment I found trying to find a pink flamingo in Sunderland today.  And that one continues on from a quest to photograph a butterfly.  It's been a busy day!

I left you in suspense.  Would I find the flamingo?  I didn't know.

So much art.  The art gallery had closed but all this free art on the streets of Sunderland made up for that.  Even the most derelict of buildings seemed to have some kind of beauty all of its own.

And this sticker, placed on a private car park sign seemed to have more to it than most stickers placed on private car park signs.

A little further on I found a church.  Information on the wall told me much about their ways.

I am guessing their traditional manner varies somewhat from the traditional manner believed so important by the Catholic Society of Saint Pius X.  It is a shame that the ordinary people here - without a pastor - are outside of the city of God.  I know for sure that this is the case because a sign on the church a few yards up the road proclaimed that to be the City of God.  I wonder how traditional the worship is in that city.  Tomorrow is a Sunday.  I could go and find out.  But I am not going to!  I wonder whether either of those churches would accept me.  For I am someone who obeys the first commandment written on that sticker.  I come queer!

Walking on I found something odd.  Blue paint.  Peeling.  And underneath the paint, some rather wonderful tiles.  I wondered who it was who thought it a good idea to paint such tiles a single shade of blue.  And who it was who wasn't keeping up with the maintenance of the blue so that we can see the tiles once more.  I cannot express how tempted I was to start peeling off the blue paint and revealing more of the tiles.

I hadn't found a flamingo.  But it was time for me to head off to the post-lunch section of the Liberation Theology event, in the place where I now thought it was.  I would have to cross the river - a bridge that I've posted about before.  Blob Thing has also posted about it when accompanying me on walks.  Along the way, high up on a building was an elephant I first spotted when walking in a Pride parade.  I love that things such as this elephant exist in the real world and are not just confined to fantasy worlds.

I crossed the bridge, eager to reach the theology gathering.  Hurry, hurry, hurry.  Stop hurrying.  Get distracted again.  By more art and more animals.

I had seen - among all the other enthralling sights - snakes, dogs, penguins, ravens or crows, a gorilla, a giraffe, cats, a bird in flight, a rhinoceros, plenty of fish, starfish, crabs, an octopus, a turtle, butterflies, a bear, a lion, a pig, a horse, an elephant, a fox, a hare, a badger, a mole, an owl and a lobster.

So many animals.  But no flamingo.  It wasn't fair!  And now it was time to do some theology.  Except it wasn't.  Because I arrived at the place where it was taking place and the door was locked.  Oh no!  I couldn't get in.  Eventually I worked out why:

I was in the wrong place.

And the right place was the place that I had been three hours earlier when I concluded that I was in the wrong place!

Yes.  I had completely mucked up the plans for my day.  I didn't mind too much though because if I had sat in Sunderland Minster all day then I wouldn't have found all those animals.  I walked back across the River Wear into the city centre.  No theology.  No marble run.  And no flamingo.

I decided to cheer myself up with some ice cream from the market at the entrance to the shopping centre.  I was doubly cheered when I noticed something marvellous.  The liquorice ice cream was in stock.  Now that brought smiles to my face.  But before buying it I decided to walk round the market.  Not for any reason.  It was just there.

On my way out of the market I passed a pretty things stall.  Not the kind of pretty things I want to have for myself.  But they are popular pretty things.  I went in to see the sparkly things.  And noticed a display case full of animals.  Glass animals.

And then I saw it.


A flamingo!

Yes.  A flamingo.  It wasn't pink.  But it was a flamingo.  And I wasn't about to rush off to the Washington Wetland Centre and try to get there before closing time to see a pink flamingo just because this glass flamingo wasn't pink.  See, there is a way to photograph a pink flamingo in the City of Sunderland.  It's just in Washington.  Not in Sunderland.

My wife came to my rescue.  She pointed out that for a flamingo to be pink it has to have a special diet.  But a flamingo living in Sunderland wouldn't naturally have that diet so it wouldn't be pink.  And since Sunderland is known for glass making - if you get a chance, pay a visit to the glass museum as well as the nearby St. Peter's Church - any flamingo living and feeding in the area would naturally be glass coloured.

I had done it.

I had photographed a flamingo.

And it was the colour that it should be too.

Success number two of the day.

The other challenge given to me this morning was of course totally impossible.  Unless I found it's solution in a charity shop.  Which I hadn't.

There would be no way that I would be able to photograph a marble run.  A pity.  I like marble runs.  And so does she who has given me the challenges.